Lugh strode through the dark, night-time, interior of the hill fort. He’d been to this place many times before, most recently he had been to court Gormflaith, the widowed queen. Court was probably not quite the word for what they’d been doing, and Lugh was used to disapproving eyes when he went about his business in the fort of the king. At least there was none of that as he walked up the slight rise to the feasting hall. The nearer he got, the more he could hear that at least the heroes of the hill fort were not asleep, they were feasting in the mead hall of the king.
The great hall surmounted the hill, looking out on the lands, a seat of power fit for a king, when there had been a king. Leaving the darkened houses and outbuildings, Lugh strode toward the torch lit entrance. Thankfully there were no disapproving eyes tonight, he thought. Lugh adjusted his gear, the ride had been exhilarating, but a wild careen through the darkness could tend to leave one in disarray. Sword set on his hip, ornate scabbard richly worked in gold and amber, he shook out his kilted mantle and settled the rich embroidery of his cloak about his shoulders, positioning the fine enameled broach as it should be at his shoulder. Lugh felt for the torc, though he knew it would not be there, instead his fingers sought and found the divination bones on the simple thong around his neck. Gold might come and go, but these have been with me for as long as I can remember, well, nearly. Now let’s see how much trouble we are in Lugh, my old friend. “Here goes,” he muttered to himself as he pushed the great door aside enough to slip through into the feasting hall. The door warden glanced as he entered and then went back to contemplating the bottom of his cup.
Eochaid had spared no expense on his hall. All the smoke darkened wood was richly carved and every principle post was sheathed in copper, highly polished, to fill the hall with the light of the sconces mounted upon them. Tonight the red of the hearths flickered sullenly across their gleaming surfaces and, instead of the bee’s wax candles that had shed such perfect light, what few sconces held a light at all made due with rush lights instead. Eochaid would not be pleased, Lugh thought.
Lugh’s eyes found their way to the dias where sat the queen, Gormflaith, and some few councilors not drunk under the table. Gormflaith’s eyes were already fixing him. They were cold blue sparks in a world lit angry red. She was stunning in her anger, Lugh felt a bit sick, she had no smile for him, as he had hoped. Her white arm rose from amid the darkness of her gown and she stabbed an accusing finger at him and then pointed to an imaginary place outside the feast hall, a command to go to her apartments, he knew.
Lugh was familiar with the way, a well paved path led directly to Gormflaith’s abode. The building had been the king’s, finely thatched and spacious. Lugh saw that there were torches on either side of the door. For a moment Lugh thought about waiting for Gormflaith on the fasting bench next to her door, but the irony would have been too much. When he tried the door, it swung open on well oiled hinges. I wonder if she was expecting me.
Most homes in this area were round wattle and daub buildings limed and thatched with reed, as was Eochaid’s home, but the king’s house was exceptional for its size. Then too, even the finest house of his cattle lords was uniformly one great room, usually divided by ornate screens to make separate compartments around the perimeter and in the center, a hearth. Eochaid’s house was similar, though larger with one great exception. Dominating half of the spacious interior was what had been a treasure room. Where most buildings were beams and wattle, inside the common construction of Eochaid’s great house was a stone worked fortress of a room, walls of stone on a stone foundation and over top of it all was mounted an iron grill-work.
Also, nearly unique, were the strong doors on the outside of the house, and then too, another, timbered and bound in iron, guarded the treasure room. When he had married his new bride, Gormflaith, Eochaid had made a bedroom of the strongroom. Perhaps he saw her as just another glittery treasure to be protected in the same way as his other precious things. The interior of Gormflaith’s house was empty, the hearth burned down to coals. By the half light Lugh saw that the great door to the inner-room, the bedroom, stood open. Perhaps it would be best to remind her of their closeness.
Even this room was fairly large by gaelic standards. It had not suffered from Gormflaith’s touch. What might have been somewhat dower, a fortress of stone, was palatially appointed with polished metal and bright bee’s wax candles. Then too, the bright light was softened by fabric, delicate linen and lacy, rich tapestry, and furs for warmth. It was still a treasure room, but its treasures were on display.
Perhaps Gormflaith was the greatest treasure of all, Lugh thought, passionate and beautiful. But it occurred to Lugh that such a fortress, with thick walls and draperies, might hold the sounds of such a passionate woman, sound that a regular gaelic waddle and daub great-room might let out beyond privacy and propriety. Perhaps Eochaid had other reasons to put his red-haired treasure in such a strong box. I’ve been thankful for the walls when I might otherwise fear the ears that would hear proof of what glowers and evil eyes only suggested the fort’s folk suspected.
Lugh cast around him for a place to light. The bed seemed less wise than the fasting bench outside. There were chairs in the inner sanctum. One in front of a dressing table impossible. There one by what served Gormflaith as a writing desk, fine for a spy. In the end, he stood, turning when he heard her enter the outside door and slam it shut behind her. Likely she had brought an honor guard with her to stand protection at the door. Need I worry for my safety?
Readers: I’ve decided to consolidate a few of these short posts into fewer. What is now (.6) is what was (.7) and (.8) My intent is to replace the story that is in those posts and has been consolidated here with new story that continues the action. Happy reading — LSO